A hole in sanctionsNorth Korea made a blitzkrieg-like announcement once again. On Sunday evening, it abruptly said it will send Kim Yong-nam as head of its delegation to the Feb. 9-25 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Kim, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea, has been holding the top position — the North’s constitutional head of state — for three generations of the Kim dynasty since 1998.
His trip paves the way to summit-level diplomacy in the Olympic city. The Winter Games are a critical moment for North Korea as well. The recalcitrant regime faces two choices: whether to confront even-tougher international sanctions through more provocations after the Olympics or find a breakthrough in its tense relations with the United States through dialogue.
The Blue House hinted at the possibility of President Moon Jae-in meeting with Kim during his stay given Moon’s desire for the Olympics to help North Korea take the second option. Asked if Moon has any plans to talk with Kim, a Blue House spokesperson said the government is trying to find opportunities for dialogue between the two Koreas. Considering that Moon could propose an exchange of special envoys or deliver a personal letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un via Kim in such a meeting, his trip cannot be made light of.
More noticeable is the possible contact between Kim and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in Pyeongchang. Insiders of the Moon administration say that Kim Jong-un chose Kim after considering the need for talks with the United States. North Korea’s No. 2 man Choe Ryong-hae, vice chairman of the Workers’ Party, is banned from traveling to South Korea due to our sanctions.
But Pence is negative about meeting with Kim. In a recent speech in Pennsylvania, he emphatically said he goes to Pyeongchang to deliver the message that the era of “strategic patience” is over. He will reportedly be accompanied by the father of Otto Warmbier, who died after retuning to America after suffering torture in the North. Given that Washington is entirely focusing on putting tough sanctions on North Korea, even an accidental encounter is unlikely to happen between Pence and Kim.
As politics is like a living organism, the door to a U.S.-North contact is not totally shut. But it can be opened only when Pyongyang faces up to the grim diplomatic realities.
On Sunday, Pyongyang said it would send its nominal head of state to Pyeongchang, but on the following day, it suddenly said it would send its art troupe on the Mangyongbong-92 ferry, which is prohibited from entering our wasters due to sanctions. The unification ministry plans to make an exception for the ship. North Korea has succeeded in making a hole in the sanctions.
North Korea is determined to stage a military parade in Pyongyang before the opening of the Olympics. Pyongyang must stop testing the world’s patience. Our government must show some spine when dealing with North Korea.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 6, Page 34